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Aug 26 2013

Jordan start-ups invited to vie for ICT accelerator program

By Alice Johnson Jordan start-ups invited to vie for ICT accelerator program
The California-based Plug and Play Tech Center has launched the Umniah-Plug and Play Jordan ICT Companies Accelerator Program, which aims to create a 'bridge' between Jordan and Silicon Valley. Over a period of one-and-a-half years, the program will select 15 start-ups in the ICT, digital media and web Internet spaces in Jordan, to attend a three-month accelerator program. This program offers the start-ups the opportunity to attend educational seminars and workshops, network with investors, corporations and investors, as well as pitch business plans to a network of more than 180 venture capital investors during a dedicated 'Demo Day'.

"Jordan is arguably one of the most prominent start-up scenes in the MENA region ‑ it has had an initiative to encourage entrepreneurship, particularly in the high-tech sector, for over 30 years," said Mohannad El Khairy, international operations manager, Plug and Play Jordan. "And it's right now that we're seeing the fruits of these efforts."

The main purpose of the program is to offer start-ups exposure in Silicon Valley, mentorship and incubation, as well as 'acceleration' through the aforementioned venture capital investor meetings and networking. "We never tell companies to move entirely to Silicon Valley. That would defeat the purpose. It would cause a technology drain and a brain drain in the country," El Khairy said. "Rather, we encourage them to seek a foot or a presence in Silicon Valley and really kind of take advantage of the resources that exist here," he added.

The program is the first to create a 'bridge' between Silicon Valley and a country in the MENA region and there are plans to add more 'bridges' between more Middle Eastern countries. Plug and Play already has a virtual bridge with Cairo, Egypt, although a physical presence is not currently possible, due to political instability.

Selection criteria, El Khairy continued, is not based on financial merit or potential alone, but more on the potential of the entrepreneurs' ideas and goals. "Obviously, there needs to be a technical proficiency and a sort of new solution that is being offered to the market, but one of the things we tend to emphasize is really how big the entrepreneur wants to grow their company and ask 'how big can they dream?'," he asked.

Start-ups taking part in the program are likely to have different goals from their attendance. These goals include increased learning and market knowledge, finding customers and the right kind of channel partners and raising finance, including 'smart money'.

"That's something that I can't emphasize enough for entrepreneurs... when you look and identify your potential investors, you have to sort of map out the ways these investors help," he continued, on the need for 'smart money'. "It's not just about taking a check and cashing it. It's 'how will my investor work for me and help me develop my product, or introduce me to potential clients, or open new doors for me?'. This is why we emphasize the importance of smart money," he said.

Plug and Play is hoping to build a 'bridge' between Silicon Valley and other Arab countries in the future, focusing on the Gulf region ‑ Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in particular.

"In the end, it really becomes up to the entrepreneur," El Khairy said, of what the outcome of the program will be for Jordan's tech start-ups. "We can do 1% of the work and they have to do 99%, but that 1% is really putting them in an environment where they can meet with venture capital investors or corporations regularly, where they attend events regularly," he said. "But, in the end, it's really up to them to hustle and make it happen."

The Umniah-Plug and Play Jordan ICT Companies Accelerator Program is supported by Int@j - the Information and Communications Technology Association, Jordan - and USAID, as well as title sponsor, Umniah.

© Zawya BusinessPulse 2013


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